The Past, Present, & Future of Talking Books
Talking books and playback equipment produced by The National Library Service for the Blind & Physically Handicapped (NLS) have come a long way since their first record players were built in the 1930s, but the traditions of innovation and accessibility continue to this day. Take a look to see how far we have come and where we are headed.
NLS has produced a number of different models of record and cassette talking book players over the years. The 1980’s and 90’s saw these models enter circulation.
A photo of three past NLS players and various formats of talking books on a black background. On the left hand side, a CT-1, combination record player and tape deck, sits with the lid raised. After many years of development NLS began production of the CT-1 in 1991. One of its unique features is a rewind switch for the record player.
A flexible disc record sits in front to the right of the CT-1. Flexible discs were first produced in 1968 and by 1987 all magazines were distributed on flexible discs.
Behind the record is the C-1 standard cassette machine. The C-1 began circulating in 1981 and the last NLS cassette machine was produced in 2007. On June 13, 2017 NLS declared the C-1 obsolete. To the right of the machine are four green cassette talking book cases stacked on top of one another.
On the far right is the A-80 record player with a blue record on the turntable with the lid propped up behind it. The A-80 began production in 1980 and featured 3 speed playback, a detachable lid with built-in speaker, and an automatic cut-off switch that stopped the turntable at the end of the record.
NLS currently produces books on digital cartridges and uploads books to the Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) site for patrons to download.
A photo of the current family of talking book playback equipment. On the left, a stack of five blue digital talking book cases are stacked on top of each other. A digital book cartridge is on the table in front of them. To the right are the DS-1 and DA-1 digital talking book machines. Digital talking book machines were introduced to readers in 2009.
Behind the two digital players, an iPad is standing up with the BARD mobile screen visible. The BARD mobile app was released for iOS (Apple devices) in 2013 and for Android devices in 2015.
NLS is working on the next generation of Talking Books equipment right now. This MOCA prototype is the first step toward wireless book delivery.
A photo of the MOCA prototype device on a white background. It is a small black rectangular box, about the size of a brick. On the top there is a speaker toward the back and a large knob at the front. The front side has a white cartridge slot with a white cartridge inserted.
Photos by Natalia Renfro
Talking Books: Pioneering and Beyond, by Marilyn Lundell Majeska (Washington D.C., The Library of Congress, 1988.)
National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. History of NLS. Retrieved from https://www.loc.gov/nls/about/organization/history/